The first question of 2024 comes from Mr Alistair Hake
"Topic for newsletter: Mace or Indian Clubs? The answer is always both, but why? What does one offer the other does not etc...
Unless you've already explored this topic.
What I like about this question is the way Alistair answers his thought which opens the door to a deeper discussion.
He starts with the “either/or” question, the sort of question kids love to ask, is if preferring one option precludes you from liking any other option.
Marvel or DC
League or Union
IPhone or Android
And so on.
This limited thinking is, well, limited.
We don’t live in a black and white world with clear delineation. We live in a world of nuance.
Except the League vs Union question.
It's Union. Always Union!
Nuance is where Alistair takes us next, “What does one offer the other does not etc…”
And that is a question.
Hopefully you are aware of Indian Clubs and Mace's.
These tools are swung in circular patterns and have been around in one form or another since the very beginning of Strength training history.
They're originally associated with wrestling, especially the Kushti wrestlers of the Indian and Persian regions.
One of my favourite quotes I read about club swinging was a social media comment, “Indian Clubs do for my shoulders what Kettlebells do for my hips and low back”
This, I suppose, is due to the ballistic nature of swinging a weight.
Taking muscles and joints quickly into and back out of ranges of motion, stretching and releasing, pumping. Almost massaging.
Indian Clubs are light and held single handed, for the most part.
We can use just one or a pair of Clubs as appropriate to the response we desire.
Mace's, they tend to the heavier side and for the most part are held in two hands.
I am talking about traditional mace work, not the modern “mace flow” trend.
Light Clubs offer mobility and relief.
They can be swung for very high reps which is recommended for connective tissue strength. Old time strongmen and many powerlifters advocated high rep work for connective tissue.
It's a theory that holds water in practice if as yet unproven in studies.
Clubs being relatively small and light offer the opportunity to put a huge variety of movement through the wrist, elbow, glenohumeral (arm - shoulder) joint, scapular-humeral (arm - shoulder blade) joint and even thoracic movement.
By relaxing and letting the clubs pull on us, centrifugal force gives a lovely stretch loading, and it's this I think is where the magic of light club swinging lives.
This is conjecture and anecdote, but as we swing, and surrender to the swing, the muscles do start feeling more elastic, the joints lubricated and the upper body just feels primed.
Heavier Clubs can't be swung with quite the same abandon as light Clubs, a little more care must be taken so as to not cause injury. But in time Heavier Clubs can be swung for moderately high reps which brings a feeling of strength.
I don't believe club swinging is a route to getting strong, but they certainly help us stay "joined up", flexible and able to demonstrate our strength incredibly effectively.
We feel stronger, mostly, I think, because of coordination.
Inter and intra-muscular coordination which comes about as a response to the large ranges clubs take us through, as well as the way the circles encourage the timing of joint actions to work better.
What about the mace?
Mace's should be heavy.
Let's remember the word “heavy” is a relative term. Your heavy will be different to my heavy, which will be different to the next person's heavy.
The heaviness comes from a combination of the actual mass of the mace head, the length of the handle and speed it is swung.
Once the body is mobile enough, the joints are prepared enough and the technique is dialled in enough, the mace can be swung for considerable reps.
In doing so you challenge the upper back, grip and core in a manner difficult to find anywhere else.
There's also a balancing act as we have to shift our own centre of mass as the mace Swings to maintain balance.
With the mace, movements are a little more limited. Traditional lifting has two events, a 10 to 2 swing alternating left and right and a 360 full circle swing.
Usually swung holding the mace in both hands, but can also be done one hand at a time.
But, these two movements take our shoulder blades through a massive journey.
And if the shoulder blades move, then the 19 muscles that attach to to it all experience load, lengthening and shortening as that weight travels.
The issue with mace training is the learning curve.
You have to want to use it as it takes a while to get the hang of and then to reach a load or rep range that gives a decent stimulus.
So how should we use these tools?
Indian Clubs, being light, can be used to warm up with.
They are fantastic to simply pick up and play with through the day. Mine live beside my desk where I can simply stand up and grab them for a handful or reps anytime I feel like it.
They pair well with push ups, flushing out the muscles between sets of callisthenics.
And are very useful for regaining shoulder health and range of motion after injury.
Mace is more of a training tool. Have it in the workout as an upper back exercise. You may super set it with a pressing movement. Or keep it till later in the session after the main lifts.
It helps keep the upper back in good shape for squats and deadlifts, so fits in as assistance work for both lifts.
Do you need to use these tools?
Absolutely not. No tool is essential.
Is it worth having these tools at your disposal to use as and when?
The shoulder is one of the most injured joints in the body.
I genuinely think these tools are some of the top tier tools for guarding against shoulder injury.
Where some coaches advocate a smorgasbord of shoulder/scapular/rotator cuff exercises, swinging a club/mace can be a one stop shop.
Not only that, you look and feel as like a savage doing it!!